See more articles, reviews, fiction and poetry, including more of my writings, at group blog PLUTO'S REALM.

Friday, March 14, 2008

There Really Is No Ordinary Moment

That's actually a misquote from Dan Millman, who wrote The Peaceful Warrior, a book I haven't read, which was made into a fairly bad movie that a lot of my friends seem to like. Funny about that movie; the first time I saw it I had just finished a zazenkai in Atlanta and it was recommended by one of my favorite teachers there, and I was expecting something profound and was very disappointed. The second time was at the Circle of Friends retreat three weekends ago; I was remembering the movie as a piece of crap and found that with different expectations I was able to enjoy it as a comic book. Which just shows what expectations do for you, I guess. Still, if you're going to go rent a comic book movie, see Resident Evil: Extinction instead. Hot chicks killing zombies wins out every time, in my book.

Anyway. The point was, I didn't have the month I expected, last month. I went to Atlanta for zazenkai on Feb. 1 and again on Feb. 29, with the Circle of Friends retreat the weekend of Feb. 22; between Feb. 7 and last night, two Nashville Buddhist Festival meetings with an unexpected degree of debate about incorporation and adopting Bylaws (after five years of existence!). So I had set myself up to get a lot done of the Buddhist front.

I set myself up, alright. Sometime after the first zazenkai I developed some sort of unnamed illness, as a lot of people did this winter, that I'm still recovering from. I normally do Yoga or step aerobics(!) four or five times a week, and at this point I haven't been to a gym or a studio in over a month. I'm still waiting for my body to tell me it's ready; I'm still trying to get rid of that heavy toxicity I often feel after an illness. Maybe tomorrow? I've learned to trust my instincts on this.

And then last week just as my brain chemistry was starting to come back to normal, my dad developed a medical problem and had to be rushed to the hospital in Nashville (and away from his hometown doctor, the murderous thug who killed my mother). He seems to be doing well. But it was a wake-up call for me (as well as it would have been for him, had he not already been awake, unlike most other 85-year-olds).

Because we expect our loved ones to live forever, although we know it won't happen. On some level I expect my dad to always be there, and someday he won't be. I expect Ms. Johnson (my 18-year-old cat) to live forever, though she can barely walk now. I expect to always have a job with enough money to live on, despite the continued ravenging of the economy by the Bush Cabal. I expect to alway recover from illness in two days like I did when I was twenty. We expect at the end of each day, to have an ordinary day the next day, and each moment to have an ordinary moment in the next one. And it never happens.

Because each moment is unique, the cutting edge of existence. Your consciousness is located on the prow of the ship which is the universe, traversing hitherto unknown seas. I was just listening to Brad Warner's podcast of the dharma talk (public version) he gave at ASZC on Sunday morning, March 2. Here it is. And I was there, thank you, but I have to wonder what it sounds like to someone who wasn't. Navel-gazing? He was talking (at the end of what the ASZC calls a Buddha schedule, which means no subject matter for discussion, only the sitting) about the concept of the self or the ego, and how that fragments during zazen. But I don't think it would make a whole lot of sense to someone who hadn't just been doing a lot of zazen; let me know if I'm wrong.

Which is one reason why, when I do rarely lead a Zen meeting, I refuse to do readings from books. As Shunryu Suzuki was fond of pointing out, there are no eternal truths. There are only truths of the moment, which can be pointed out in context. Canned Zen is like canned corn; vastly inferior to the real thing. Which is why you should sit down and pick your truth fresh.

And as often happens from intense experience, like the zazenkai two weeks ago and the month before, I have had a perceptual shift which is hard to articulate. Of course my personal stress factor over the last month has been a part of the process (and I would note that as I progress or at least go on with zazen, everything becomes zazen). You don't have to go to Zen books to get the kind of shift I'm talking about, and in fact, Don't! Try some good fiction. Try Sartre or Camus or Kathe Koja's early adult fiction.

It's kind of like this: Starting about the time of the February zazenkai or just before, I'd started seeing sort of a background to everything which I hadn't noticed before. Just sort of a raw background with no content that underlies everything. But it was seamless, though relentlessly present. Then, this month, I've been seeing the background break up and seeing the spaces in between things. Maybe I feel a little more detached, but that's not quite right. It's like relaxing into the void, living in the emptiness and watching the chips of conditional things float by, picking and choosing to observe, to touch or not to touch, then let them go. It's absurdly impossible to explain, so I'll stop trying.

Or maybe I still have a fever, thought I doubt it. Maybe the toxins will be gone by tomorrow. Maybe that will be an ordinary day.

"Ghost Bob" photo courtesy of Ana. That was how I felt that weekend. And now: a bonus video from Donita Sparks and the Stellar Moments' Transmiticate, my favorite new rock album in years! More later!


Ana said...

Glad you liked your portrait. Maybe I should work for the tabloids.

And I honestly know what you're talking about. I've given up hoping for anything ordinary. XD

Hot chicks killing zombies really does win out. especially with the expectation of there being clones..

I hope you feel better soon. Send my love to Mrs. Johnson.

Anonymous said...

I read The Peaceful Warrior in the '90's and wasn't really impressed. When the movie came out it bombed and got bad reviews so I stayed away. It's interesting that many of your friends and a respected Zen teacher recommends this movie. Now I've got it in my Netflix queue, out of curiosity. It seems the movie has enjoyed an after life on DVD rather than being completely forgotten.

zubaysus said...

The [Way of the] Peaceful Warrior is the one with the gymnast, right? I saw the movie a couple of months ago. It was pretty hoaky. Typical mentor/protege movie. Bad special effects. I give it two stars.